On a global scale, the past thirty years have borne witness to far-reaching, world-changing events: from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War era, to reshuffled geopolitical maps, the September 11 attacks on the U.S., the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and major environmental disasters, to name but a few. What is more, the hectic pace of technological innovation in that time period has amplified and radically impacted almost every single field of human existence, causing humankind to experience a paradigm-shifting progression.
In this age dominated by digital technology, mobile computing and communications, the Internet and new social networking media outlets, the way we access and share knowledge and information has dramatically changed. “We’ve gone from zero to close to three-and-a-half-billion people who have a mobile device and are connected to each other.” The early and continuous exposure to digital media (such as cell phones, computers, the Internet, digital video, video gaming, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, Facebook, etc.) of new generations, or post-millennial digital natives, is changing the way information is being accessed, absorbed, interpreted, processed and used by the human brain. Neurological and psychological research has established that the human brain is adapting and evolving to adjust to this explosion of new technology.
Miri Chais is a contemporary multi-media artist, originally from Israel, based in Los Angeles. The artist’s first U.S. solo museum exhibition at the USC Fisher Museum of Art, titled Re:Mind, is a multi-media site-specific installation that probes the increasingly pervasive immersion of technology and augmented reality into our human experiences and the human mind, and the impact and influence of technology-driven mass social media on society.
In the digital landscape of our century, as new technology filters and seeps into so many aspects of our daily lives—redefining them—the pervasive nature of the digital experience and the extent to which one’s current perception of reality get enhanced and affected by technology are of great interest to the artist. The inquiry into the increasingly un-delineated and permeable juncture between the natural world and augmented reality and its many ramifications has informed the artist’s body of work for the past several years. More recently, 2014 New York Times Bestseller book “The Future of the Mind” by physicist and string theorist Michio Kaku has become a pivotal source of reflection and inspiration for Chais. In this publication, Kaku examines the potential and various promises of advanced technology and their effect on our brain, mind, and consciousness, discussing concepts such as telepathy and telekinesis, among many others. He envisions a future world where memories will be recorded and swapped, and our consciousness, downloaded onto machines, will live forever.
Re-Mind, Chais’ installation at the USC Fisher Museum of Art—designed to provide an immersive experience—takes the viewer down a metaphorical rabbit hole to explore and probe the wide-ranging possibilities of a not-so-remote future and symbiotic post-human world populated with hybrid beings with advanced brain to machine interfaces. The artist reflects on the troubling hybridization of man and machine, where the human body and mind amalgamate with artificial intelligence. The artist considers the future and the ways life and mankind’s body and soul will be affected by technological breakthroughs—a future where, for example, technology would make it possible for artificial memories to be inserted into the brain, thus entirely blurring the distinction between reality and fiction. Chais ponders: “If we are programmed like computers, then what differentiates a man from a machine? We will create artificial memories, and master complex skills instantaneously. And what becomes of the human soul, sum of a person’s knowledge and experience?”
The exhibition’s first gallery is a liminal space that functions as a microcosm of the larger installation, introducing the themes of the exhibition and conceptually referencing the artist’s Rabbit Hole series of works, on display. These Plexiglas and L.E.D. pieces inspired by the classic tale incorporate Pokémon characters and Japanese anime-style imagery, and pop culture influences—a cultural iconography that especially speak to the Millennial Generation who grew up in the age of the internet, computer, social media, and instant messaging. “This body of works reflects on concrete, yet imaginary and symbolic places that have the qualities of neither being natural nor completely artificial.” A multi-media, atypical, Gondola, reveals an ethereal gondolier—which image is projected on the wall—while blue wiring traces the shadowy outline of the boat and a gold-leafed pipe at its bow features a small circular video screen. This work functions as a vessel carrying the viewer through the exhibition—a device that travels between realms, rooms, and worlds, inspired by the symbolic role of the boat as a carrier of souls in Egyptian and Greek mythologies. Enter-Mind, a mixed media and digitally manipulated print on canvas, is an iconic multi-layered image overlaying scenes of natural landscapes—memories of a natural world—with an MRI of the human head and brain. Enter-Mind both references the ‘future of the mind’ envisioned by Kaku, while exuding a nostalgic quality.
The next gallery takes the viewer on a metaphorical journey and exploratory path inside the rabbit hole, an adventure in the unknown, at the intersection of the physical-real and digital-artificial worlds, where Chais explores the ways technological breakthroughs can affect our mind by altering our perception of reality, and how the current bombardment and mass distribution of re-mixed electronic imagery can affect our lives on an emotional level.
A floating moss covered ‘cloud’ blocks the visitor’s view and directs one’s path into the space. This large amorphous hanging sculpture belongs to the Augmented Garden series, which reflects on the meeting place between nature and culture. Inspired by Japanese Zen gardening, this body of work comprises sculptures covered with natural—yet mass manufactured and distributed—moss, featuring openings with embedded kaleidoscopic prisms that encompass images of landscapes transformed into intimate mirrored and fragmented capsules—where nature is appropriated and re-defined.
In the far end of the gallery, the Golem, American Eagle and Raven stand erect in front of a wall of video projections. The Golem is a monumental sculpture assembled out of hybrid fragments housed in sheer Plexiglas boxes. Inspired by late Medieval Jewish mysticism (where the Golem was conceived as a dummy brought to life by sacred ceremonies and which has been an influential subject in popular culture and Sci-Fi literature), this work includes a soundtrack with the voice of well-known life coach and self-improvement author Tony Robbins—symbolic of one’s self-journey in America—and a video segment of a recorded, but muted, talk between Larry Gagosian and Jeff Koons at the Abu Dhabi's art fair viewed through an iconic “Koonish” rabbit/fertility organ. This advanced technology-inspired sculpture manifests the hybridity of what Chais perceives as the human experience today, bridging times and cultures. The Golem’s head, encased in Plexiglas and resting on its side on the gallery floor, is separated from the body, waiting to be resurrected in an uncertain future. The sculptures American Eagle and Raven reveal respectively an American bald eagle’s and a raven’s skull replicas set in the center of a clear Plexiglas blossoming crown atop a tall and narrow mirrored stand. Both skulls’ eye sockets lit up intermittently in synchronicity with video displayed on a small screen attached to the side of each stand. Each video speaks to each bird’s well-known symbolism and cultural representation. Specters of distant memories, they stand as “avatars, as simulacrum doppelgangers, mirrored odalisques that absorb their surroundings into their own lean, absent flesh.”
Video projections on several walls of the gallery incorporating music composed by Ari Chais (the artist’s son) contribute to the immersive experience of the installation. The videos explore mind-related subjects—early childhood memories is one such instance— with featured content found on the Internet and remixed by the artist.
In On Mind, a series of mixed media and digitally manipulated prints, Chais appropriates and alters found and mass-distributed images and pictograms obtained on the Internet. Iconic stills from Hollywood futuristic movies, MRI scans, and footage of landscapes and natural scenery, populate the prints and merge to create a distinctive and repurposed iconography. The artist equates her digital and hand manipulation to the dynamism of Abstract Expressionism “with the coolness and detachment of Post-Internet Art. These states of mind, emerging from a singular ghostly x-ray scan of a brain, stand as a threshold or a gate into another dimension, luring the viewer to take a step into another realm of existential exploration.”
Recall to Mind is a series of ghostly white anonymous sculptural heads protruding from the wall. Cast in plastic from rubber death masks acquired from a Hollywood prop store, half of the sculptural heads incorporate a screen featuring video composed from materials available for download on the Internet, such as purchased footage of family videos, You-Tube downloads and commercial scientific demos. It is a vision of Ancient Greek marble sculptures colliding with Sci-Fi futuristic genetically engineered Cyborg-like beings. Alluding to empty shells and Avatar sculptures, Recall to Mind is a direct reference to Kaku’s book on the subject of the possibility of shaping one’s mind and character by manufacturing memories and experiences. Chais ponders: “If our life’s experiences shape and distinguish who we are as human beings, what does it mean if we could delete unpleasant issues from the past and open the possibility of re-living over and over again? Does cyber technology and surrogate opportunities answer the long-lasting quest of mankind for eternal life, and the continuous quest for the duration of the soul after the death of the flesh?'
To further allude to the thematic blurring between deception and reality, and internal and external spaces, Chais created a group of diamond-shaped prismatic pyramidal sculptures incorporating reflective and transparent surfaces, and embedded with illuminated objects, most notably replicas of human heads.
Chais inscribes her artistic practice within the discourse of Post-Internet Art defined as “a result of the contemporary moment: inherently informed by ubiquitous authorship, the development of attention as currency, the collapse of physical space in networked culture, and the infinite reproducibility and mutability of digital materials." In a digital age where many of our experiences with the object and the image are mediated by technology, through computer screens and interfaces, the artist annexes Internet content—visual items from a cultural output entirely removed from its context of origin—to create a powerful iconography merging contemporary ideograms and ancient symbols in search of a new aesthetic. Chais scrutinizes this new object-to-image rapport to comprehend the societal power and authority of contemporary visual imagery stemming from the ubiquitous web culture and mass social media.
Selma Holo: Director, USC Fisher Museum of Art
Miri Chais “gets it.” She gets that the essential relationship of humanity today to technology is not about what the next gadgets are going to be; nor is it about the higher level of concerns over privacy; nor is it about education; nor even about the management of our health and safety. The essential relationship of humanity today to technology is about the changing brain that technology is shaping. Miri sees this potential as both thrilling and terrifying. Through her art production, she forces us to also confront this relationship as the next frontier —one neither of land nor sea—but one which we will inevitably cross. Indeed, this is the frontier that, whether we are aware of it or not, we are already crossing.
The USC Fisher Museum of Art is especially pleased to be able present an exhibition of Miri Chais in our great research University, one where disciplinary boundaries are daily being challenged. At Fisher neuroscientists and artists will inevitably cross paths in our galleries, and in doing so they will confront other “truths” than those to which they are accustomed by nature of their academic fields. But, as Emily Dickenson prescribed, Miri Chais is still telling the truth but telling it slant.” Miri, after all, is an artist—a sculptor and a colorist—she knows that “success in circuit lies….” We at USC Fisher feel privileged to be able to show Miri’s art, art and to celebrate an artist who forces us to see a truth from other angles, other perspectives—as it wends its way through the strange mélange of beauty and science she has created.
"In 2040...", Jaus Gallery, Los Angeles, CA 2014
For the exhibition "In 2040..." I had conceived GOLEM, an advanced-technology inspired sculpture, that manifests the hybridity of what I perceive as the human experience today, and following my "Colossus" installation that was exhibited in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2010.
The “original” Golem creature was conceived in late Medieval Jewish mysticism, as a dummy that was brought to life by sacred ceremonies, and it’s influence on Sci-Fi literature, movies and popular culture is still evident in modern era.
This monumental figure is built out of fragmentary limbs, that combine the hand-made sculptural prisms, the industrial technology and the reminiscent of animalistic presence, as a pile of left-overs that were brought together in resurrection.
Gigantic yet slim and fragile, this pseudo-immortal creature, bridging between times and cultures, contemplates about the human chase after progress and spectacle. It resembles a mythical oracle or a sacred totem, to whom the eyes of the viewers are lifted in anticipation.
A video piece that follows a talk situated in Abu Dhabi's art fair between Larry Gagosian and Jeff Koons, two major Brand-forces in the contemporary art market, is placed inside the iconic “Koonsish” rabbit shaped fertility organ. The commerce oriented dialogue is being muted and repeated, allowing the viewer to reflect upon the differences between the two's body gestures and semi-formal, perhaps contradictory fencing duet.
Another Iconic contemporary leader that is being addressed in this work is self-improvement coach Tony Robbins, whose voice has been accompanying me for the past few years, as an American soundtrack of self journey. Robbins presents the perfect formula for better lives, and he manifests from first hand the scope of possibilities that are reachable and waiting out there for making it .
The Golem's body is decomposed and stored in sheer boxes, as waiting to be fixed or resurrected.Contextualizing Golem in retrospect, might result in a portrait of turmoil, investigating uncertainty that perhaps best describes it’s creating moment in time.
Miri Chais creates, cross‐breeds, and connects intricate, surrealistic "light‐bearing" objects, luring the viewer into a world of fantasy and imagination. Her combinations and fusions generate an illusion, introducing new perspectives which orient and move toward the light.
The uniqueness of the works lies in their use of advanced technologies and materials alongside readymade objects, imitation of conventional uses, and relinquishment of all reference or link to action in place and time—modi operandi which blur the boundaries between various fields of knowledge and creative disciplines, exposing the viewer to new experiential and sensorial areas. MORE
MIRI CHAIS: BEYOND THE REAL
Miri Chais turns the flux of images that continuously floods us in the present time into a source of inspiration to her art. Her works, conceived as lighting elements, are based on advanced materials, like LED and Plexiglas that are used in computers and communication devices, and on cutting edge technologies of sound and image, laser cutouts and movement sensors. She constructs her images from symbols and visual expressions used in the fields of science, biology, digital software and hardware, alongside an overt dialogue with Japanese comics and animation – the Manga and the Anima culture – with Greek mythology and with pagan traditions that are deeply embedded in human behavior, even the most updated.
Chais wishes to understand the power and the density of contemporary images, their constant transformation, duplication and annexation. In her art she is preoccupied with the power of visual images to exist on their own, losing all relation to any cultural, geographical or social source, representing no outside reality: The tension between the real and the imaginative turns into a tension between the imaginative and itself, with no need to relate to the real or to know it. This radical model appears and controls many aspects of our life in the 20th century. It continuously challenges the body and soul of the individual and of the community. It is this model that leads Chais to create sculptures, objects and installations that tell the fears, the ideologies and the enchantments of the epoch. MORE
MIRI CHAIS: THE COPY AND PASTE PARADOX
…Things Happen on the Internet
We live in a culture of paradoxes. The very notion of multiplicity—ribuoy [ריבוי]—assumes dichotomies; the Hebrew word for culture—tarbut [תרבות]—is associated with the word for majority or plenitude—rov [רוב]. The paradox, however, is crafty and elusive. Take, for example, the following paradox: The more Coke you drink, the thirstier you become. Namely, instead of an equation (thirst-drinking-saturation), we get a paradox of excess which duplicates itself on and on. In Internet culture, excess and vanity have long lost the negative connotation of being superfluous. Excess and vanity are part of the real thing.
Equal among equals.
The empty, vain question "What's up," whose tone is not even accompanied by question mark, may well be rooted in the logic of Internet surfing, where things chance our way. We surf the net, in search of something, and proximate things surface and present themselves to us, as bargains often do. This is what's up. And what's up becomes just as important as the essential. MORE
MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL, WHO'S THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL?
In Miri Chais’ exhibition, ‘beauty’ plays the lead role; it is resplendent, alluring and magnificent, but at the same time hollow, shallow, serial, soulless – digital beauty. Chais brings to center stage all that which in modern art’s recent past has been pushed into the inferior and vulgar margins surrounding the realms of kitsch and decoration, and was distinctively ascribed to the female world.
“We decorate your life,” wrote American artist Barbara Kruger in one of her works. Miri Chais takes the stereotype of female functioning to the limit, transforming the very act of decoration and ornamentation into the major concern of her work. The female figure who is the source for all the decorations and patterns extending over the walls, partitions, pendants and mobiles comprising this installation, is a faceless, flat and transparent woman, who emerges flickering from all over, until she is entirely absorbed within the obsessive surplus of the decorative flood.
This woman appears in four images: once as a “queen” (a figure without legs, wearing a tiara and a dress), once with her arms behind her head supporting her neck, once as a torso with arms attached to its body, and once again – with its arms embracing her upper body. The digital manipulation – the images’ flattening, mutual-duplication, and endless cloning into colorful kaleidoscopic flower- and star-like weave – in fact eliminates the individual image of the woman, rendering her a wall flower, a piece of furniture, an ornament.
The installation is centered around a table set for seven female diners, each has a plate, glass, knife and fork, all decorated with the same serial patterns. Unlike American artist Judy Chicago’s mythological installation The Dinner Party (1979), which paid homage to 39 female artists who made it into the pages of Western history, here the guests are anonymous silhouettes whose facial features have been obliterated and whose identical bodies are made of a flat Plexiglas cutout. Appearing in another part of the installation as a mobile suspended against a wall print resembling diamond imbedded skies, the ‘queen’ too is, in fact, a silhouette of a face-less body wearing a dress decorated with her own image.
Chais uses the seductive power of kitsch to disperse the smoke screen and remove the viewer from reality. Kitsch – the sin of a bourgeoisie yearning for harmony, order and beauty – seems to have taken over the entire space, so that no piece of surface remains untouched.
Chais offers a representation of passive femininity devoid of sexuality, sweeter than honey and pleasing to the eye; a closed magic circle that sustains itself harmoniously. Her preoccupation with representations of femininity, beauty, decoration and ornamentation elicits questions pertaining to the way women have been presented by men throughout the centuries as a wall decoration, as the contents of a safe, as a source for the pleasure of possession, and as a pretext for aesthetic satisfaction. The fact that this installation adorns the respectable lobby of the Hi-Tech Management School adds an ironic dimension, as if saying: ‘You keep on doing business, we’ll keep on decorating your life.’